by Britt Chester

Photo by Tracy Ketcher

“We started a band to make records,” said Vinnie Dombroski, lead singer and founding member of Sponge, “it was never ‘let’s get this major deal going, let’s get on the radio, let’s write for the radio.'” Sponge’s debut record, Rotting Pinata, was released in 1994, long before the era of a “singles world” would takeover modern music. Long before iTunes would make single tracks available for download. Long before Spotify would give an artist fractions of a penny for playing its music. Long before companies like IndieGogo were around to help label-less acts fund a tour.

But that never stopped Dombroski and his band from continuing to make records.

“These days, it’s not like people buy the whole record,” he related. “They go on iTunes and buy songs. I can get that. The true fans will buy the whole record, that’s for sure.”

And the true fans have spoken: Not only will they “buy the whole record,” they will even go as far as to fund a tour for their favorite ’90s rock band. Sponge managed to crowd-fund the most recent tour, appropriately titled Endless Summer, through IndieGogo.

“It’s ambitious not only for a band like Sponge, but lots of bands that are our contemporaries,” Dombroski added regarding the decision to crowd-fund the tour. Years ago, Sponge would be able to tour nonstop playing shows any night of the week, but he acknowledged that Sponge fans aren’t necessarily going out on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday anymore.

“We’d make enemies with club owners,” he said. “They’d say ‘we have Sponge on a Monday, and it doesn’t do so hot,’ so we all take a bath, so now we are out here doing stuff we haven’t done in many years.”

The Endless Summer tour consists of an East Coast leg and a West Coast leg, both of which were completely funded thanks to the fans.

“Hats off to the fans, as always,” he said. The group’s latest effort, Stop the Bleeding, is much different than the unstoppable rocking predecessors that Sponge has in its catalog. Being that Sponge is from Detroit, Dombroski acknowledged the strong dance influences that have come out of the Motor City “” Carl Craig of Detroit, Plastikman (also known in dance circles as Richie Hawtin) from Windsor, Ontario “” that left an imprint on Sponge. “Dance Floor,” a single track from Stop the Bleeding, gives old Sponge fans an idea of the direction that the act is going in, but not bending itself too much to accommodate the pop sounds of the current. It’s also important to note that when Sponge released its first album, bands such as AC/DC, Ratt and Poison were flooding the airwaves, so they weren’t concerned with being behind, on top of or ahead of the curve. It was always about making the music they wanted to make.

“Bands like KISS bent to the disco era, Blondie did it, and The Rolling Stones did it. We aren’t doing disco, but as far as adjusting their sound to current trends, the bands I mentioned did that. Why can’t Sponge?” Dombroski asked. It’s not even that Sponge is changing its sound all that much “” a sharp turn from the mid-’90s rock sound that it held onto for so long “” but more so that it’s growing beyond the vision that it possibly once had.

“In Through the Out Door, did that sound like Led Zeppelin? For God’s sake, no! We come from an era where bands did that kind of thing, so we can stray a little bit,” he added.

Whereas many tours that fall on the heels of a record release are designed to exclusively support aforementioned album, Endless Summer and tours for Sponge, in general, are never lacking in the radio hits department.

“We aren’t one of those bands that won’t play the hits “” the radio tunes “” we are drawing from seven records,” Dombroski said.

Early Sponge songs such as “Molly” (with the hook “Sixteen candles down the drain”) are always present in the sets, and it seems like “Wax Ecstatic” off the album with the same name is opening up every show. Dombroski also said, getting back to the fans, that they sometimes take requests from the crowd, if it isn’t a track that the band will mangle.

But other than that, Sponge is still in its prime, albeit a few years after their successful run of radio hits. They still manage to survive tours and still have the fan base that warrants consistent shows. They still come out and hang out with the crowd before and after shows “” signing autographs and snapping pictures “” and it still means the world to them that the fans come out. Even if the times have changed “” the band’s website plays host to a forum of message boards and photos of fans with the members “” the band that got together to make music the way they wanted, still gets together to make music the way they want. !